Repatriation and the Ownership of Antiquity

Some countries believe that artifacts and major discoveries that originated in their own country belong to them regardless of who discovered it. These countries claim that the artifacts belong to them even though the artifacts are from ancient times and were not produced by the cultures within the countries today. Many of these countries want these artifacts to return to their original region as opposed to sitting in a museum in London or Paris. These museums, such as The British Museum and The Louvre, have a different opinion. Museums like these are called encyclopedic museums, and they hold many artifacts that came from all over the world, including Egypt. By having so many artifacts from so many different cultures in one place it makes it interesting to see how the cultures were similar, different, and how trading influenced the ancient world.

As mentioned earlier, the countries want the artifacts back because they believe they own them because it was produced in their region and is a part of their national history. These countries are essentially ignoring the fact that cultures are in a constant state of change, mainly due to trading and cultural exchange. Also, they are contradicting the idea behind encyclopedic museums by demanding they send back all of the artifacts. Encyclopedic museums are meant to show artifacts and objects from many cultures around the world in one place to ignite curiosity about the world, the way cultures connected, and the people who were involved. I believe that the museums should remain the protectors of the disputed artifacts because they have the means to maintain these artifacts, and above all keep them safe.

The issue of ownership in regards to antiquity is clear to me, it belongs to the people of the world, not just a specific country. These encyclopedic museums, such as The British Museum and The Louvre, are perfect examples of this idea. Anyone can go into The British Museum and see some of the most amazing artifacts from antiquity for free. To me that is simply amazing, when I was there last July I was at a loss for words due to the overwhelming amount of artifacts from all over the world that were suddenly before my eyes. “By presenting the artifacts of one time and one culture next to those of other times and culture, encyclopedic museums encourage curiosity about the world and its many peoples.” (Cuno, 120). The previous statement hit the nail on the head because that’s essentially the sensation I had while inside The British Museum, and again when I was in The Louvre only 2 days later.

Some countries would have their artifacts sent back for the sake of nationalism and sectarianism, which have nothing to do with antiquities but they would use them to persuade such ideals. These countries are basically claiming that the culture only existed there, and there it should stay. “Instead, they should express the guiding principles of the world’s great museums: pluralism, diversity, and the idea that culture shouldn’t stop at borders – and nor, for that matter, should the cosmopolitan ideals represented by encyclopedic museums.” (Cuno, 120).

The exchanging of artifacts between museums is one idea I can get behind. Instead of trying to take back artifacts countries should be working with museums to get artifacts not only from their past cultures but from all over the world. If more and more museums did this then more and more people could be exposed to multiple cultures from different regions of the world. Not everyone has the means to travel to museums like The Louvre, so if artifact exchanging became a common practice then it could spur a new interest in cultures people might not have even knew existed. Again this goes back to the idea of a cosmopolitan world, and that culture doesn’t have borders.

Dispute over ownership of antiquity artifacts is not something that is going to go away over night. Countries will keep pushing to have certain artifacts returned, but the museums will do their duty and stand their ground. The artifacts from antiquity cannot be replaced, so maintaining their condition and keeping them safe is a major concern which the museums handle magnificently in addition to allowing the world to experience a jump back in time when you walk through the doors.

By: Shelby Watford